William Alexander Ayton and his wife Anne Ayton were amongst the earliest members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, being initiated at its Isis-Urania temple in London in July 1888.  They both chose Latin mottoes: William Alexander’s was ‘Virtute orta, occidunt rarius’, Anne’s was ‘Quam potero adjutabo’.  Fifteen months later they were both initiated into the GD’s inner 2nd Order.  Anne Ayton remained a member of the GD until her death; William Alexander until 1903 when he became a senior member of one of the GD’s daughter orders, A E Waite’s Independent and Rectified Rite (or Order).



Thanks are due to Caroline Copping, who emailed me to remind me of the perils of doing family history on a family not your own. She sent me details of a brother of Anne Ayton that I’d never heard of – John Amis Hempson (1822-1905) of Erwarton Hall in Suffolk. Caroline is one of his descendants. She also sent details of Anne Hempson’s date of birth, which I hadn’t been able to find in any of the family history websites.


Finally, a note before we start: you occasionally see their surname spelled AytoUn (including by R A Gilbert, my source for the GD members’ names) but this does seem to be wrong.  There’s always confusion about women called Ann, or AnnE; most references to Mrs Ayton, including her death registration, give AnnE so I shall use that spelling.


If you want to cut to the chase and find out about William Alexander and Anne Ayton’s lives in the world of the 19th century occult, go to our web pages at


and follow the links. If you want to know more about his family and his day-job, read on...


William Alexander Ayton was by far the oldest man to be initiated into the GD: he was born the year after Waterloo.  He was also by far the longest-lived: he died five years before World War 1 broke out.  His life spanned most of the 19th century; yet he seems to me to be a very 18th-century figure. 


William Alexander was already known to William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers when they founded the GD: as a translator of occult texts from Latin; as a member of several occult societies that they knew of or had joined; and as a practising alchemist.  Much if not all of the study necessary to join the GD’s inner order was waived in his case, Westcott and Mathers thinking it more appropriate to ask him if he could help them to prepare teaching aids and compile exam papers.  


William Alexander also proved willing to lend hand-written copies of his Latin translations to people (GD members and others) who wanted to study them.  His letters to one of his manuscript-borrowers, Frederick Leigh Gardner, have survived and been published (see the details in the Sources section below).  The letters cover 1889 to 1905 and when William Alexander is not advising Gardner on ‘how to be an occultist’, he’s talking about his and Anne’s lives inside and outside the occult.  They are virtually the only source I’ve found that give details of the daily life of a GD member during the 1890s.


The Aytons were a Norfolk family.  At the end of the 18th century William Alexander’s grandfather, Armsby Ayton, lived in Great Yarmouth, where he ran a business moving heavy goods by horse-and-cart.  He married Martha Capon and had at least two daughters, Frances and Elizabeth, and at least one son, William Capon Ayton, born 1786.


William Capon Ayton trained as a solicitor at Barnard’s Inn in London and practiced law from various addresses in the Bedford Square area of Bloomsbury.  His career as a solicitor seems to have had its ups and downs: I’m never very good at reading financial-cum-legal notices but I think he went bankrupt- or very nearly - around 1831 and I’m not sure whether he worked as a lawyer afterwards.

In 1814 William Capon Ayton married Nancy Mary Nicolson, daughter of Alexander Nicolson of West Harling near Thetford.  They had two children: William Alexander the GD member, and Ellen.  Nancy Mary Ayton had died by 1837.  The fact that there were only two children suggests to me she may have died in the early 1820s.  In his continuing search to combine cheap rents with modern facilities, William Capon changed addresses in his private life as often as in his professional one. His children were born in Bloomsbury but spent some years in the new suburb of Kentish Town in the 1820s before William Capon moved them on to Brompton in west London in the mid-1830s.  On census day 1841, William Capon Ayton had moved yet again, to Islington.  Ellen, now aged 20, was living with him and probably acting as housekeeper as they did not have any servants living-in; and William Alexander was also at home.


William Alexander Ayton was born on 28 April 1816.  From March 1830 to May 1831 he was a day-pupil at Charterhouse School which was then still at its original address, in Charterhouse Square on the edge of the City of London.  Fifteen months at school doesn’t seem like much, but William Alexander was not the only GD member to spend so little time in formal education.  All education had to be paid for at this time and many parents spent their education budget in this careful way.  The rest of William Alexander’s schooling will have been either at home with tutors, or at a local school of lesser reputation.  That he did have much more schooling than his short time at Charterhouse implies is clearly shown by the fact that he got into Trinity Hall Cambridge in 1837 and won a prize there for a Latin essay.  He graduated in 1841.


A young man from the middle-classes, with a good education but no money or influence in his family background, was destined for the professions.  William Alexander opted not to follow his father into the law.  He embarked instead on what I’ve come to believe could have been a brilliant career in the Church of England.  He was ordained as a deacon in 1842 by the archbishop of Canterbury and ordained as a priest in 1843 by the archbishop of York.  Very few new recruits to the Church of England had two archbishops take such an interest in them.  In 1846 the archibishop of Canterbury, William Howley (uncle of GD member Lina Rowan Hamilton) found William Alexander his first job in the Church of England, as vicar of St Mary Magdalene at Monkton, near Ramsgate in Kent.  As well as showing that Howley was taking an active part in promoting William Alexander’s career, the appointment was also a generous one financially: in the 1870s the parish of Monkton had an income of about £670 per year, and its income in the 1840s must also have been a very tidy sum. 


The problem with having the archbishop of Canterbury as a patron is that the archbishop is an old man by the time he’s made it to the top of the tree; he will die soon and his successor may not feel the same way about you.  William Howley died in 1848 and was succeeded as archbishop by John Bird Sumner, an energetic church-builder and skilled diplomat, but an Evangelical.  And here is one of the things I mean when I say that in many ways William Alexander Ayton was an 18th-century man: I can’t see him as an Evangelical, believing in the literal truth of the Bible.  Ellic Howe, in his book on the GD, doubts that William Alexander had any deep religious belief at all.  I’m inclined to agree, and to say that going into the Church for the assured income and the leisure it could offer you to pursue other interests is a very 18th-century thing to do; not a 19th-century one.  I’m not saying that William Alexander didn’t believe in God; I’m sure he did and in fact you had to believe in the one god to be a member of the GD, let alone the CofE.  But he was not devout, in the way that a 19th-century man of the Church was expected to be devout.

If William Alexander was not an Evangelical - I haven’t found any evidence that he was - archbishop Sumner would not have viewed him as suitable for further promotion and it wouldn’t have mattered what else if anything William Alexander was doing with his time.  I would like to suggest, though, that William Alexander was using his leisure hours to ‘pursue other interests’.  I think he was already an occultist and alchemist.  The study of the occult takes time and effort and I can’t see how William Alexander could have got the reputation he had amongst other occultists unless he’d been studying for many years.  There’s also the question of the gap between his being ordained as a priest (1843) and that first job at Monkton (1846).  What was he doing in those three years?  Waiting for an appointment, certainly.  Dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death in 1843, very likely. But supposing he was beginning his work as an occultist? - living on a shoestring, his inheritance from his father (if he had one); working at the many occult texts in the British Library (like Mathers did decades later); setting up his first alchemical experiments.  It’s possible that he even travelled abroad to do research and meet people there, although the evidence from the 1890s doesn’t suggest he did that.  The most famous evidence for William Alexander’s alchemy is the references to his laboratory made by W B Yeats.  Yeats met William Ayton through Samuel Liddell Mathers.  William Ayton told Yeats about the alchemical laboratory himself, apparently at their first meeting. Yeats doesn’t seem to have visited the Aytons so he never had a chance to see if the tale of the laboratory was true, but surely William Alexander must have been doing alchemical experiments for decades by 1888 when the GD was founded.  Yeats writes of William Alexander as continually in fear that his bishop would find out about them. 


Being an alchemist, studying occult documents, and being a pious Christian - these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  Many 17th and 18th-century occultists began their investigations in the hope that they would be led to a deeper understanding of the workings of God, or of the divine mystery - however you like to think of it.  But other Christians believed that seeking the details of God’s plan in this way was blasphemous, and even dangerous to your immortal soul.  William Alexander was probably right to take pains to make sure his church superiors didn’t discover what he was doing.


In 1850, after what may have been two rather difficult years under the new archbishop’s regime, William Alexander was offered a different job in the Church of England - on terms.  He must, I think, have been actively looking for a change.  Sir Digby Cayley of Brompton in Yorkshire came to his rescue.  The Cayley family were patrons of the rectory of St John the Baptist, Scampton, a village just north of Lincoln.  In due course the rectory would be handed over to Sir Digby’s third son Reginald, but Reginald was only 13 in 1850 - he wouldn’t be qualified and ready to take it on for at least 10 years.  Sir Digby was looking for a man to nurse it in the meantime - a similar situation provides some of the plot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  The rectory’s income wasn’t as grand as Monkton’s but it was still pretty good as mid-19th century incomes went: about £300 per year in the early 1870s.  William Alexander accepted Sir Digby’s offer and left Kent for rural Lincolnshire.


It was during his time at Scampton that William Alexander got married twice.  His first bride was Catherine Harriet Moore, daughter of Joseph Moore of Lincoln and his wife Catherine Amelia, née Roe.  Joseph Moore worked as a solicitor in Lincoln. However, he told the 1851 census official that he’d been born in Hoxton, then a suburb just north of the City of London; so perhaps he had known William Alexander’s father.  He certainly kept up his contacts with London: in 1842 he took on an articled clerk who had been born there.  Joseph and Catherine Amelia lived at 5 Pottergate near Lincoln cathedral.  Catherine Harriet (born in 1835) was the eldest of their eight children.  William Alexander and Catherine Harriet married in 1858 but their marriage lasted less than three years.  Catherine Harriet may have been sent abroad in an attempt to preserve her health (there’s no death registration for her in England), but she had died by census day 1861.  If there were any children, they did not survive their infancy.


William Alexander did not remain a widower for long.  In 1862 he married Anne Hempson.


The Hempsons were from the Suffolk-Essex border.  Anne’s father John Hempson farmed about 200 acres of land at Ramsey in Essex, just outside the port of Harwich.  In 1818 he married Lydia Davey of Bures St Mary Suffolk.  Lydia brought some property to the marriage as her dowry: three cottages, and two tenements in the village of Great Oakley, all of which were rented out to tenants, at least in the 1830s.  John and Lydia lived at Hill House in Ramsey.  They had three daughters - Lydia, Anne and Mary - and three sons – John Amis, George and Amis. Anne Hempson was born on 6 October 1820.  

Anne’s younger sister Mary Hempson left home quite young - in 1847 she married John Charles Garrad, a businessman from Colchester.  John Garrad died childless in 1865 and left Mary rather well-off.  She was often abroad in the decades afterwards and it was Anne and Lydia who seem to have been closer as sisters, throughout their lives.


John Hempson died in 1856 and the family went their separate ways.  Anne’s brothers John Amis, and Amis, were both well-to-do farmers and livestock breeders; John Amis was also in business as a maltster, Amis was a member of his local Poor Law Board. Amis and his wife Sarah Ann took over John Hempson’s farm at Ramsey.  John Amis Hempson and his wife Mary Charlotte moved to Erwarton in Suffolk and lived in Erwarton Hall in Suffolk. They may have moved in by 1858, when the Hall (originally built in 1575) was partially rebuilt.     Anne’s mother and her two unmarried daughters moved to Bures in Suffolk where Lydia Hempson senior had grown up. Anne was not at home with the two Lydias on the day of the 1861 census.  She was visiting family friends - barrister James Cockle, his wife Adelaide, and their two daughters.  The Cockles were living at 76 Cambridge Terrace Paddington but they both had family in Essex and Suffolk: James had been born in Great Oakley Essex and Adelaide in Walton Suffolk.

Anne’s brothers had been sent to school in Colchester, but it’s likely that she and her sisters had their schooling in Ramsey.  The Hempson’s neighbour at Hill House in Ramsey was the local school-master: perhaps the Hempson girls attended his village school and got their basic literacy and bible knowledge there.  In addition, their mother would have taught them the skills that had served her well as a farmer’s wife and the owner of some property. Lydia Hempson senior and her daughter Lydia and Anne told the 1861 census official that they were gentlewomen.  Anne went a little further and described herself as a “Gentlewoman of Independent means”. All John and Lydia Hempson’s daughters must have inherited enough from their parents to give them a small income (Anne’s mother died in1869). At Anne’s death, her personal effects came to five thousand pounds or so, a larger sum than I had expected.

William Alexander Ayton was also in London on the day of the 1861 census, staying at a hotel in Paddington.  I have no idea how he and Anne Hempson met, but they might have met at this time - April 1861 - through the Cockles.  They were married in Ramsey in the autumn of 1862.   In 1863 Anne’s sister Lydia also married the vicar of a country parish - Mortimer Manley, vicar of Rainham in Essex.


The first few months of William Alexander and Anne Ayton’s lives as a married couple were spent at Scampton, but in 1863 the inevitable day of William Alexander’s departure arrived: the Cayley family decided Reginald Cayley was ready to take over the vicarage they had ear-marked for him.  I imagine William Alexander had been on the look-out for somewhere else to go for some time. The offer he accepted was made to him by John Lonsdale, bishop of Lichfield, who in the late 1820s had spent six years as rector of St George’s Bloomsbury and may have known the Ayton family slightly.  The job was as curate of Oakengates in Shropshire, which to me looks like a signficant loss of church income and status for William Alexander: Oakengates already had a vicar who for some reason was not able to carry out his duties at the time; but the curate’s salary would be taken out of the salary of the vicarage and in 1872, the vicarage only paid £89 per year.  William Alexander did still accept the job. Perhaps Anne’s own income made up the difference, financially speaking, and at some stage during his life William Alexander had bought some shares in a railway company, which were still paying him dividends in the 1900s.  He and Anne could manage, therefore, on a small Church of England salary, and as long as he was left alone to pursue his own interests, William Alexander was prepared to put up with the job.


Oakengates was a small village on the edge of the industrial west Midlands; it has since been swallowed by the borough of Telford in Shropshire.  The Aytons stayed there for five years until in 1868 they moved on or were moved on again.  By this time bishop John Lonsdale had died and George Selwyn had been recalled from his job as Primate of New Zealand to take his place at Lichfield.  At least the job Selwyn offered William Alexander was as a vicar not as a curate.  Edingale in Staffordshire was an even smaller village than Oakengates but the yearly salary for its vicar was about the same as William Alexander had been earning as Oakengates’ curate, so in financial terms nothing much was going to change.  He might already have been finding George Selwyn more of a handful as his bishop, though.  John Lonsdale was perhaps more William Alexander’s kind of bishop - as Principal of King’s College London and archdeacon of Middlesex, he was often away!  George Selwyn, though, was a different kind of man: energetic, committed and very hard-working, he had done very well in the task set him in New Zealand of creating a Church of England infrastructure in the new colony.  He was very hands-on, though, and I’m sure William Alexander would have preferred someone more hands-off!  Edingale was closer to Lichfield than Oakengates was, as well - only seven miles away - and the hand of whoever was bishop at Lichfield was likely to be felt more heavily there, as the bishop was the lord of the local manor, as well as the vicarage’s patron. 


William Alexander and Anne stayed at Edingale for another set of five years before making their last Church of England move in 1873, when Elizabeth Wykeham-Martin chose William Alexander to be vicar of the Martin family vicarage at Chacombe, about three miles north-east of Banbury.  Mrs Wykeham-Martin must have been acting on behalf of her husband Philip, MP for Rochester and owner of the estate of Chacombe Priory, of land in Warwickshire, and of Leeds Castle in Kent.  Elizabeth’s family came from north Kent - her father had been MP for Rochester before her husband was - and perhaps she remembered William Alexander from his time at Monkton.  I haven’t been able to find out how much the yearly income of Chacombe vicarage was, but I would suppose that it was rather more than the amount the Aytons had been receiving from William Alexander’s last two appointments. 


William Alexander always described Chacombe as being in Oxfordshire but in fact it’s in Northamptonshire which meant that it was part of the diocese of Peterborough.  During William Alexander’s twenty-one years as vicar of Chacombe, he had to deal with two bishops of Peterborough.  William Magee was the man in post in 1873 and must have ratified Mrs Wykeham-Martin’s choice.  Magee’s family had been important figures in the Church of Ireland during the 18th century but Magee had served all his career in England.  He had a reputation as a rousing preacher and was given the bishopric of Peterborough by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli for his fierce opposition to the dis-establishment of the church in Ireland.  He had some very radical views - he wanted the Athanasian creed abolished because of its references to eternal damnation, and was an active temperance campaigner.  I have no idea whether William Alexander agreed with Magee on these points, but I doubt if he appreciated Magee’s skills as administrator and the zealous way he carried out his diocesan work.  I assume that Magee was the bishop that William Alexander was so afraid would descend on him and find out about his alchemical laboratory, according to W B Yeats.


Chacombe, of course, was where William Alexander was working and he and Anne were living, during the first few years of the Order of the Golden Dawn.  I think it suited them.  The Wykeham-Martins did not live at Chacombe Priory, although they owned it, so the Aytons were not bothered by the continual presence of the vicarage’s patron.  The village was not added to the railway network until after the Aytons had gone - when they wanted to go into Banbury, they walked there.  Chacombe was a quiet, easily-overlooked place in rural England - just what alchemist William Alexander wanted and what gentlewoman Anne was used to and trained for. 


At the end of the 1880s, Percy William Bullock, Frederick Leigh Gardner and others were put in touch with William Alexander, probably by William Wynn Westcott who knew all three of them by this time. The idea was that William Alexander would act as guide to Bullock and Gardner, as they attempted alchemy and the study of occult manuscripts.  William Alexander’s letters provide an account not just of William Alexander’s advice and opinions on occult matters, but also a record of the Aytons’ lives in that period. 


During the summer of 1889 - that is, the year after they joined the GD - the Aytons were away from Chacombe for a month or two.  In 1889 they went to Brighton to stay with William Alexander’s sister Ellen Riches.  Then they spent several weeks at Staverton Lodge near Cheltenham, staying with Henry John Lay, who was possibly another occultist.  Anne seems to have got on well with Henry Lay’s wife - Isabella Lay and her daughter Robina Ross were staying with the Aytons on the day of the 1881 census.  Feeling that the sea-bathing they’d done while at Brighton had done them a lot of good, the Aytons returned to stay with Ellen for a second time, before returning to Chacombe where Anne had visits from a friend (probably called Miss Waterhouse though I can’t prove it) and from her sister Lydia Manley while William Alexander visited Gardner and his wife Miriam at their house in Chiswick.  Then it was back to normal life at the vicarage. 


Normal life included not much visiting or being visited in the rural winter; William Alexander attending to his parish duties; and probably alchemy.  The Aytons didn’t attend very many meetings of the GD’s Isis-Urania temple as they all took place in London; though they did do their best to attend the big GD rituals around Whitsun and at the equinoxes, usually combining them with family and other business that could only be done in London.  The ‘other business’ included going to meetings of the Theosophical Society - both the Aytons had joined the TS in July 1889 - and to more informal occasions with other TS members, like a seance at which Annie Besant was also present: I find it really hard to picture the Aytons round the same spiritualist table with Annie Besant.


What had probably been the Aytons’ normal winter routine for many years was interrupted when Anne was ill in March 1890. The bishop allowed them to take a trip at short notice to Yorkshire - probably to Harrogate - to help her recovery.


In May-June 1890, GD member Mina Bergson stayed with the Aytons for three weeks to qualify as a resident of the parish.  Then William Alexander officiated at her marriage to Samuel Liddell Mathers in his church.  After the Mathers had left, Anne’s friend Miss Simpson came to stay.


In February 1891, Frederick Leigh Gardner and Miriam went to stay with the Aytons at Chacombe for a long weekend.  William Alexander and Anne had become vegetarians in the early 1880s but were happy to cook meat dishes for the Gardners.  The four of them must have had a spiritualist seance, with Miriam Gardner as the medium, because in letters written after the Gardners had returned to London, William Alexander warned Frederick against the danger Miriam was putting herself in, allowing Elementals to speak through her.


Although it did not look like it at the time, June 1891 turned out to be a crucial month for both the Aytons.  There was a flu epidemic that year: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky died in it on 8 May 1891. William Alexander was heading to be 80 and Anne was about to be 70 when they caught it, and they both seem to have been very ill indeed with it.  Summer plans were put on hold and by November 1891 William Alexander was wondering if his new bishop would allow him to retire under the Resignation Act, which guaranteed him one-third of his previous income.  The new bishop was Mandell Creighton, a very different kind of man from William Magee - not from a Church family, moderate in his religious views, scholarly, a lover of Italy, married to Louise (née von Glehn) an author and suffrage activist; and perhaps more amenable to a request to be allowed to give up work.  To retire would mean the Aytons moving house yet again, but by making a careful choice of retirement destination, they would be able to cope financially, and be nearer their relations - William Alexander’s sister Ellen in Brighton, or Anne’s sister Lydia and brother Amis in Essex.


Over the next years William Alexander’s letters were full of anxious references to Anne’s health.  W B Yeats (many years later) called William Alexander the most panic-stricken man he’d ever met, but in this case, he had something genuine to worry about.  In September 1892 he was telling Frederick that Anne hadn’t been completely well since the flu, and I get the impression that the attack had caused a permanent decline in her health.  The Aytons began to avoid occasions like the big GD meetings for fear that they would catch another bout of flu at one of them.


Retirement took longer to achieve than William Alexander had expected, with one plan falling through in 1892.  William Alexander had told Frederick that Hastings was his preferred choice of retirement town; but the south coast proved to be way above the Aytons’ means and in 1894, when the Aytons finally left Chacombe, they moved to West Hoathley, near East Grinstead in Surrey. 


William Alexander’s own health was poor - he had rheumatism and was prey to attacks of bronchitis.  During the first few years of his retirement he may not have done much alchemy.  He did have more time to read the papers, though and to give his opinion on current politics - he was a staunch, probably life-long Conservative. One opinion that I particularly enjoyed was Ayton telling Gardner that Rosebery (who became Prime Minister in the General Election of 1895) was in league with the Jesuits to bring down the Empire. 


Anne’s brother-in-law Rev Mortimer Manley died early in 1896 and Lydia Manley moved to Brixton - not an obvious choice for the widow of a country vicar but it did mean that she was nearer to Anne.  In October 1897 Anne went to Brixton on what was probably her last visit to Lydia.  Anne’s health was deteriorating rapidly.  By December 1897, she spent most of her time in bed, finding any movement at all very painful.  She died on 29 June 1898.


William Alexander went to stay with Ellen Riches and there was talk at least at the start of his second widower-hood of brother and sister pooling their resources and moving in together.  This didn’t happen though - I think they didn’t really get on.  William Alexander was telling Frederick Gardner that he was too frail and too ill to live alone (he’d had his 80th birthday in 1896); but Ellen was only four years younger and was perhaps not able, as well as not willing, to act as the carer-cum-housekeeper he felt he needed.  Instead, William Alexander moved to Greenhithe in Kent, staying there for a year or so before moving to London’s western suburbs.  By 8 January 1900, he had moved into 285 Uxbridge Road.  I think he took the decision to move back to London so that his GD and other London-based friends could visit him more easily and more often - his health probably being past his visiting them any longer (even a decade before he’d been finding travelling very stressful).  During 1900 he mentioned to Frederick Gardner that Julius Kohn and Thomas W Wilson had been spending time with him at his new address, and it’s likely that Gardner himself was a regular visitor - there aren’t many letters from William Alexander to Gardner in 1900 and 1901.  Percy William and Pamela Bullock might also have gone to see him, though I don’t have direct evidence for that. 


For a short time during 1900, the GD’s most high-ranking woman member, Florence Farr, lived with William Alexander on Uxbridge Road.  It should have been to both parties’ benefit: William Alexander wanted someone in the house on a permanent basis in case he needed help; Florence Farr had only a small income and she was often short of money for rent.  The arrangement didn’t last though: no GD history that I’ve read is quite sure why, and William Alexander’s letters don’t explain what went on, they only say that what went on wasn’t his fault.  Knowing William Alexander as a Conservative and conservative man, and Florence as an independent-minded woman, I think they were bound to clash.  She left, and by the day of the 1901 census William Alexander had hired Mary A Thomas, a widow in her early 50s, as his cook-cum-housekeeper. 


In February 1901 William Alexander wrote to Frederick Gardner that he’d got another cold, and another bout of bronchitis.  He was having to use an inhaler and was also taking “a special medicine I have for such emergencies” (given his alchemical and occult experience I dread to think what sort of things were in it!)  By the end of 1901 he was admitting defeat: it was nice to live so near his occult friends, but the coal-fires of west London were having their inevitable effect.  On 13 November 1901 William Alexander wrote to Frederick Gardner from his latest address, Grove Lodge Saffron Walden.  It turned out to be his last, and once he was settled in he either continued, or re-started, his alchemical experiments.   


At least up until 1904, William Alexander continued to read the papers and comment on the news to Frederick Gardner.  In November 1901 he read with horror of the occurrence of the ultimate disaster in the life of a secret society: its existence being made public.  In a hearing at Marylebone Police Court, a “Mr MacGregor Mathers” was mentioned by Mme Laura Horos (not her real name, needless to say), one of two defendants as the head of “a society in Paris called the order of the ‘Golden Dawn’”.  Although the police explained that the society was a reputable one and had had nothing to do with the crimes committed by Mr and Mrs Horos, that the GD should be named in such a case was a truly terrible thing for its members - Mr Horos was being committed on various charges of deception and conspiracy to defraud, but also one of a rape in which stolen GD rituals had been used to frighten the victim.  William Alexander expected that the GD would have to disband itself forthwith and it did cause a crisis: of course the ruling committee quickly changed the GD’s name, but quite a few members decided to resign anyway.  However, it was internal divisions over the future emphasis of the GD - mysticism or magic - that finally caused it to divide into two daughter orders in 1903.  William Alexander went with the magicians: led by A E Waite, a group of them founded the Independent and Rectified Rite, which was consecrated in November 1903.  William Alexander accepted Waite’s invitation to become (with Waite and Algernon Blackwood) one of the Rite’s three chiefs; and I guess held the post until his death.


In 1904 William Alexander still expecting the destruction of the British Empire by the Jesuits, possibly using the Russians and/or William Ewart Gladstone as their agent.  William Alexander hated the idea of Home Rule for Ireland.  Gladstone had been its most consistent supporter amongst English politicians; he’d died in 1898 but to a spiritualist, that was not a problem!  William Alexander was also reading the Scottish magazine Chambers’ Journal regularly in 1905.  In 1906 he was 90 but possibly still working on occult documents: in 1908, his only venture into print was published by the Theosophical Publishing Society.  It was a translation from the Latin of a biography of the Tudor magician John Dee.  The British Library doesn’t have a copy of it but you can buy copies via the web. 


William Alexander Ayton died at Grove House on 1 January 1909.


In November 1898, William Alexander was engaged in the distressing task of preparing a new Will now that Anne was dead.  He wrote to Frederick Gardner asking him to be one of its executors.  William Alexander told him that he was going to name Percy William Bullock as his second executor, though he hadn’t spoken to him about it yet. In naming two GD members to sort out his affairs when he died, William Alexander was probably thinking not so much of the money and assets he had to leave, but of his occult papers.  Frederick Gardner replied that he’d be happy to act as executor.  But William Alexander changed his mind: when his Will was finally registered at the Probate Registry, there was one executor, a woman called Alys Margaret Paton.


I’ve done a bit of research and I can’t find any evidence that Alys Margaret Paton was a relation of William Alexander Ayton or Anne Hempson Ayton.  Though she had spent her childhood in Suffolk, she wasn’t living in Saffron Walden around the time of William Alexander’s death.  She wasn’t a member of the GD.  None of her family were amongst the visitors that William Alexander and Anne entertained at Chacombe during the early 1890s; nor did William Alexander mention in his letters any visit to her or her family during that time.  So why William Alexander picked her to deal with his legal affairs, I do not know.  I have one suggestion to make: that she was the daughter of a friend of either William Alexander or Anne.  Alice Margaret Paton (she preferred the Welsh spelling of her forename) was born in 1859 to Rev Alexander Paton, vicar of Tuddenham in Suffolk, and his wife Ellen Willerton Paton, née Thorold.  It’s been difficult to find out much about Alexander Paton as he was born in Scotland.  However, he was about William Alexander’s age - born around 1814 - so it’s possible that they could have done their training for the Church of England together.  Ellen Paton came from a Church of England family.  Ellen’s father was a vicar and her brother Anthony Wilson Thorold became bishop of Rochester in 1877 and then bishop of Winchester in 1891; the historian of Roman Britain, Guy de la Bédoyère, is a descendant of his.  Rev Alexander Paton died in 1889 and Ellen, Alys and Alys’s brother John moved first to the Isle of Wight and then to Fishbourne in Sussex; another brother, Alexander, emigrated to New South Wales.  Ellen Paton died in Fishbourne in 1906.  Alys Margaret Paton never married; she died in London in 1922.  I haven’t paid for a copy of the Will to see what was mentioned in it and who the beneficiaries were.  However, some of William Alexander’s papers are now in the Freemasons’ Library, having been deposited there by the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA).  William Alexander must have left them to SRIA; although he was not a member, he knew plenty of men who were including its then head, the ubiquitous William Wynn Westcott.


BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.


Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert.  Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986.  Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914.  The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation.  All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.  Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01.  As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.

Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.


Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.


Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.


Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources.  I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.




Crockford’s 1880 misses out this: Charterhouse Register 1769-1872 R L Arrowsmith 1974 p13 says that Ayton was appointed Curate of Monkton Kent in 1846.

Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1880 p32 has him as William Alexander Aytoun (sic), corrected in the 1891 edition p47.

Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1900 p49 William Alexander Ayton is now of Horns Cross Greenhithe.  He no longer has charge of a parish.

THE LAB IN THE BASEMENT: the well-known reference to this is from The Trembling Veil by W B Yeats.  I saw the original 1922 edition: London: Privately Printed for Subscribers Only by T Werner Laurie Ltd.  The book is reminiscences.  Yeats’ meeting with William Alexander (who isn’t named, only described) is covered on p70.  The bit about the laboratory in the basement is in quotation marks and so is, supposedly, what Ayton actually said; however, the conversation took place around 1888-89 - that is, 30 years or more before Yeats started preparing the book.

Who was archbishop of Canterbury from the list on wikipedia.  Who was archbishop of York from www.archbishopofyork.org,; the one in post in 1843 was Edward Venables Vernon later Vernon-Harcourt 1807-47.


Details of the places Ayton worked are mostly from the individual villages’ pages on wikipedia. 


I also used this useful website: www.visionofbritain.org.uk which has items (though without page numbers) taken from Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales by John Marius Wilson published 1870-72

The Cayley family, patrons of Scampton in Lincolnshire: website //cayleyfamilyhistory.moonfruit.com has a detailed list of the descendants of the 7th baronet, Sir Digby Cayley 1807-83 and his wife Dorothy.  Their 3rd son Reginald Arthur Cayley 1837-1918 became rector of Scampton in 1863.  Other information on the Cayley baronetcy from wikipedia.


The Wykeham-Martin family, patrons of Chacombe in Northamptonshire: at

 www.accessgenealogy.com, which uses information from The Martin Genealogy. They were the Martin, later Wykeham-Martin family, of Leeds Castle Kent, Chacombe Priory and later on somewhere in Warwickshire too.  Member of the family Fiennes Wykeham 1799-1840 took the extra surname Martin by royal patent in 1821.  His grandson Philip Wykeham-Martin (1829-78) married Elizabeth daughter of John Ward MP f Rochester.  She is the person who appointed Ayton to Chacombe. 


The wikipedia page for Squerryes Court, Westerham, Kent, says that the Warde family still live there. 


Just confirming that Chacombe is in NORTHAMPTONSHIRE not Oxfordshire:  The English Counties Delineated by Thomas Moule, published 1837 has a paragraph Chacombe on p231 headed Northamptonshire and listed as part of the Church of England. Midland Circuit.  In 1837 there were 87 houses in Chacombe and 485 inhabitants.



The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn: Letters of the Revd William Alexander Ayton to Frederick Leigh Gardner and Others 1886-1905 edited and with an introduction by Ellic Howe.  Aquarian Press 1985.  P16 Ayton’s letters to Gardner were sold after his death by his sister.  They were bought by Michael Houghton of the Atlantis Bookshop; they then went to Gerald Yorke and are now in the Gerald Yorke Collection at the Warburg Institute, University of London.



Dietetic Reformer and Vegetarian Messenger via the web got to an issue of 1883 p353 refers to a mtg (I couldn’t see where or when in the snippet) at which a “Mr W Ayton” spoke saying that he’d given attention to the matter of dietetics in the past but “would now, with his family, go in for thorough...”  I couldn’t read any further on the snippet but I think I’m safe in saying that William Alexander and Anne went vegetarian in 1883.

Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism by Margaret Puskar-Pasewicz published 2010 focuses mainly on the USA, but on p259 in chapter The Vegetarian Society of the UK she says that the idea of being vegetarian only began to attract the middle-classes in the 1870s.  Up until that time vegetarians had mostly been from the working-class. Vegetarians were often also anti-vaccination and anti-vivisection.  The London Dietetic Reform Society was set up 1875.



Family history website www.foremanfamilyhistory.co.uk has a reference to a Frances Ayton, born in Great Yarmouth in 1783.  On 28 June 1815 she married James Foreman, in Great Yarmouth.

At www.doun.org/transcriptions/surnames,: b/m/d list for people with the surname Ayton.  Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica published by Hamilton Adams and Co 1880.  On p357 there’s an item I couldn’t see very well in the snippet, apparently about the death of William Capon Ayton’s aunt (his mother’s sister), probably in January 1801.  There’s mention of Martha Ayton, William Capon Ayton; and of an Elizabeth Capon Ayton who is William Capon Ayton’s sister.

At discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk a list of Wills held at the PRO at Kew include PROB 11/1491/224, the Will of Armsby Ayton “Carter of Gt Yarmouth” dated 26 January 1809.

Gentleman’s Magazine 1836 list of obituaries p333 include the widow of Armsby Ayton of Great Yarmouth (unnamed, but it’s Martha)) on 15 January [1836] at Thorpe near Norwich aged 78.


Baptism of Nancy Mary Nicolson 9 April 1792 at West Harling Norfolk.  Her parents are Alexander Nicolson and Margaret née Wright.



Familysearch has 2 marriage registrations for him, but they don’t agree on the date or the place!

1 = England EAS-y GS film 1470926: at Roudham Norfolk on 4 October 1814

2 = England EAS-y GS film 1595866: at Thetford Norfolk/Suffolk on 1 October 1814: marriage of William Capon Ayton to Nancy Mary Nicolson.  This second registration gives Nancy’s year of birth as 1793.

The Monthly Magazine volume 38 part 2 1814 p391 published a marriage: William Capon Ayton of Barnard’s Inn London, to Nancy Mary Nicolson; though it doesn’t give exact date or place.  Nancy is the youngest daughter of the late Alexander Nicolson of West Harling. 


On the history of Barnard’s Inn, Holborn: wikipedia.  See also www.gresham.ac.uk for m info and some pictures.


Did he go bankrupt? -

London Gazette p1483 which unfortunately didn’t have the date of the issue: Notices Issued by the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors.  Although I can’t see the date I think it’s 1831 because similar details appear in The Law Advertizer volume 9 1831 p488.



Tried familysearch for baptism of him and his sister Ellen Ayton: nothing.

Charterhouse Register 1769-1872 R L Arrowsmith 1974 p13.

Alumni Cantabrigiensis Part 2 Number 1 p105 William Alexander Ayton.


WILLIAM ALEXANDER’s first wife Catherine Moore:

Via familysearch: marriage 18 June 1834 of Joseph Moore to Catherine (sic) Amelia Roe; at St Andrew Rugby.  England ODM GS film 0554755 and 0554756. 

Via familysearch: baptism of Catherine Harriet Moore at St Margaret-in-the-Close Lincoln took place 17 October 1835.  Parents Joseph and Catharine (sic).  England EAS-y GS film 1542052.

Legal Observer volume 23 1842 p55 for Joseph Moore’s London-born articled clerk.



Via familysearch: Ellen Nicholson (sic) Ayton married John Louis Riches 29 December 1857 at St Stephen’s Norwich.  England-EASy GS film 1471611.  The name ‘Louis’ may not be correct: at freebmd the registration has been transcribed thus: Ellen Nicolson Ayton to John LAIN Riches.


I couldn’t find either him or her on any census after their marriage: most frustrating.  Nor could I find anything which was definitely about him on the web.  I tried both ‘Louis’ and ‘Lain’.  I couldn’t find a death registration on freebmd for Ellen Ayton so she may have died abroad.



At website historyofsuffolk.co.uk a copy of White’s Directory 1855 entry for Erwarton says that Erwarton Hall owned by Berners family, descendants of the Hall’s builder, Sir Philip Parker. John [Amis] Hempson is listed at Hall Farm St Osyth.

Information sent by Caroline Copping, descendant of John Amis Hempson in an email 1 August 2018: the 1861 census shows J A Hempson and family at Erwarton Hall.

PO Directory of Suffolk 1865 p677 entry for Erwarton.

//historicengland.org.uk entry for Erwarton Hall. Built 1575 for Sir Philip Parker. Partial rebuild 1858; then additions later 19th cent. It’s mentioned in Pevsner’s The Buildings of England: Suffolk 1961.

Farmer’s Magazine volume 80 1876 p124 a prize for one of John A Hempson’s shorthorns.

Country Life Illustrated volume 8 1900 p269 J A Hempson mentioned as a judge of Suffolk horse contests at royal and county shows.

The Southdown Flock Book published by the Southdown Sheep Society. Volume 15 1906 p56 announces that J A Hempson’s flock is being sold by his executors.

British Rainfall issued by the GB Metrological Office 1906 p82 J A Hempson is in a list of ctribrs to this publication; and p87 he’s in a list of official “observers” who had died since last year.


Anne’s brother AMIS who takes over John Hempson’s farm at Ramsey. He’s rather more involved in local government than John Amis Hempson:

Reports from Committees House of Commons 1868 p62 as part of the Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Select Committee on County Financial Arrangements, p66 Amis Hempson gave evidence on Fri 12 June 1868 as member of the Chamber of Agriculture of Essex and vice-president of the Board of Guardians fof the Ramsey area.

Shaw’s Local Government Manual and Directory for [Poor Law] Unions... 1881 p105 A Hempson is listed.

Coates’s Herd Book volume 33 issued by the Shorthorn Society of the UK 1887 p350 has an advert for sale of Stanway Duchess, calved 14 March 1884 and currently owned by Mr A Hempson of Ramsey Essex.

Essex Review volume 7 1898 p79: death notice for Amis Hempson of Hill House Ramsey near Harwich. He had died at that address “on March 4th soon after the death of his eldest son”. He’d been born in Ramsey 18 September 1827.


Lydia Hempson:

Allegations for Marriage Licenses in the Archdeaconry of Sudbury and County Suffolk published 1921: p192 John Hempson of Ramsey marriage to Lydia Davey of Bures St Mary Suffolk n 20 July 1818.

Essex Archives at seax.essexac.gov.uk.  Manorial Records and Deeds of NE Essex, their ref D/DU 457/30: a fire insurance policy taken out 2 November 1838 by Lydia Hempson.  The amount of the policy is £205; it’s with the the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Co.  The properties covered are 3 cottages on the street at Great Oakley; plus 2 tenements at their rear; all currently occupied.


The Essex Almanac 1865 p72 lists of current members of the Corporation of Colchester includes  J C Garrad, councillor for Colchester’s 3rd ward.  On p73 his was the first name on the list of Colchester’s “Town and Channel Commissioners”. 


Freebmd’s transcription of the marriage registration of Lydia Hempson has got her husband’s surname wrong: it gives it as MaUley but all other sources give MaNley.   Marriage registered at St Faith’s Norfolk April-June 1863.



That William Alexander was still doing alchemy in 1902 is mentioned in Yeats’s Golden Dawn by George Mills Harper.  Wellingborough Northants: The Aquarian Press 1974.  Footnote 17 on p188 quotes a letter Yeats wrote to Lady Gregory on 20 January 1902, in which Yeats was quite disparaging about the whole subject.


Blavatsky died at the Theosophical Society headquarters in Regent’s Park, where she was living in the household of Countess Wachtmeister. Freebmd has the death registration, in the Marylebone registration district, April-June quarter 1891. The exact date is given at //blavatskyarchives.com though the source for the information is not given.


The trial of Theodore and Laura Horos, real names Frank Dutton Jackson and Editha Loleta Jackson, received huge coverage in the papers.  Even the Times succombed and carried detailed reports on the commital hearings and the Old Bailey trial.  You can read the blow-by-blow account in the Times starting on Friday 27 September 1901 and ending on Saturday 21 December 1901.  Mr Horos was found guilty of rape and Mrs Horos of aiding and abetting; they both got penal servitude.  Mention of Mathers and the GD was made by Mrs Horos during the commital hearing, report published in the Times of Friday 22 November 1901 p13.  The Horoses were professional fraudsters.  They had been allowed in to Ahathoor Temple in Paris by Mathers despite the fact that they were never GD members.  He’d also lent them GD rituals to copy - rituals they never returned.




Her family: at //suffolksurnames.co.uk is Ray Longs Cosford database.  It has some Paton burials, with years of birth and dates of death.  All were buried at Brent Eleigh Suffolk.  Alice/Alys Margaret Paton is amongst them; but she is listed as Ann not Alice/Alys.

Suffolk Returns from the Census of Religious Worship 1851 editors T C B Timmins and D P Dymond published 1997: on p213, Rev Alexander Paton is already vicar of Tuddenham by this time.


At trove.nla.gov.au the Sydney Morning Herald of Friday 2 September 1892 p1 marriages notices includes one for the marriage of Rev J D Paton to Catherine Louise daughter of T P Payne of Southampton; on 13 July [1892] at St Mary’s Southampton.  J D Paton is son of the late Rev A Paton; his brother Alexander G H Paton is currently living at Carlingford New South Wales.  Rev A W Thorold bishop of Winchester, uncle of the groom, officiated.  Further details on A W Thorold from wikipedia.                                 



7 April 2017


Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: